Planning consultant Lisa Jackson talks us through her Fox Barn Passivhaus self build project.
Interview with Lisa Jackson
Lisa has been running her planning consultancy business for the last 7 years. She also trained as an assessor for the Code for Sustainable Homes, which is what started her interest in energy efficiency and thinking about building in a different way. Her husband has a background in construction and is a town planner, so their combined skills in sustainability, construction and planning, all proved invaluable when it came to taking on their own self build project.
RICS Red Book was used to get a valuation of the potential plot
Originally Lisa and her husband had bought the house next door as a DIY project. It was the worst house in the village and they realised they couldn't afford to develop it the way they hoped, but it was on a really good plot. So they approached their neighbour who agreed to sell half of his plot for them to build their house. Lisa and her husband owned the access and the neighbour owned the frontage. After getting the plot professionally valued via the RICS Red Book it was determined to be a 50/50 split. They came to a formal arrangement, whereby should planning permission be granted the neighbour would give them the option to purchase the land.
Don't be afraid to revise your planning application
The house needed to be relatively low key and contextual in terms of design, as it was an infill plot between a thatched cottage and a one and a half storey bungalow, and was replacing a single storey agricultural barn style of building. They achieved planning consent for a 4-bedroom house.
However, after more research, Lisa and her husband decided they wanted to build to Passivhaus standard. With the help of timber frame specialists Touchwood Homes they were able to adapt the designs relatively easily. They worked on increasing the insulation and reducing the amount of glazing on the north elevation.
They then submitted a section 73 application with the changes and were issued with a new consent.
Lisa points out that if you're looking to buy a plot of land which has already been granted planning consent, you shouldn't feel coerced into using that design. She says that there's every opportunity, if it stays within the constraints, to make changes using the section 73 application for the interior and even some of the external features.
“Don't make a planning application for what you want, make a planning application for what you'll get consent for”
This is advice that Lisa gives to her clients. She suggests looking at all the guidance (in terms of conservation areas, village design statements and character studies) and making sure that your application is policy compliant. She thinks it can be easy to get carried away with designing the house that you desperately want to build, but if it doesn't pay any regard to its context then the application is likely to fail.
From her own experience as a planning officer, Lisa advises careful consideration of how drawings are presented in the planning application. She often found CAD drawings to not fully reflect how the building would look, have little light and shade, and no feeling of the materials. In comparison, hand drawings would often bring it to life more effectively.
“So presentation to my mind is everything and winning over the hearts and mind of that planning officer, because that’s what you’ve got to do and they’ve got to love it like you do.”
People want certification if they're buying a house without radiators!
Lisa's decision to go for Passivhaus certification was partly based on being a sensible business decision to enable her to persuade clients to go for certification. Having the certification also helps with the re-sale, because it demonstrates to potential purchasers that while it may not yet be the conventional approach, it actually does work.
Live nearby to your plot during construction
After selling their old home to release equity to finance the project, they decided to rent a nearby house. Lisa fully recommends that anyone doing their own self build.
During the construction Lisa's husband was diagnosed and treated for cancer. As Lisa says, the silver lining was that he was able to spend his recovery period on site project managing the build, which actually aided his recovery and gave her the time to concentrate on running her business.
Certain jobs fall between trade skills
The house was made from Touchwood Homes' ‘light and tight' timber frame which was pre-cut off-site, and insulated with Warmcel recycled newspaper.
They used a local team of tradespeople who they were very pleased with, but still found that they ended up doing some of the work themselves where certain jobs fell between skills and there was no one else to do it.
A good mortgage broker can really help if you need to re-finance
During the winter of 2011 they realised that there was a gap in their finances of £60,000. They managed to borrow some of the money from a relative, but also had to extend their mortgage – a process which Lisa says was made more difficult by the providers' lack of knowledge about what's involved in the self build process. She does however credit her mortgage broker with being a huge help and making a big difference.
Take professional advice where possible
When they moved in 3 years ago it still felt like a building site, but completing the landscaping after the first year made a huge difference. Also, creating happy memories in the house turns it more into a home.
Lisa recommends taking good professional advice where possible and she suggests that if you're looking for a good planning consultant go through the Royal Town Planning Institute or look at the Planning Portal to see who's managed to get planning permissions in your area.
She also feels in hindsight they should have employed the services of a lighting designer, as they slightly over-specified on lighting.
Above all she thinks you need to be brave and prepared to put in the hard work. She says her husband thinks it took him a couple of years to really recover from the whole experience, however he is already talking about the next one!
Find out more
Visit the website of Jackson Planning
NSBRC Summer Show
The National Self Build and Renovation Centre are holding their summer show on June 17th to 19th. There will be exhibitors, seminars and a variety of experts and self builders taking part, including Ben Adam-Smith! Ben will be talking at 1pm on Friday 17th June about the Passivhaus standard. Throughout his time on this podcast he has visited over 30 certified Passivhauses and is keen to share the experiences and advice he has been given along the way.
Following Ben's talk there will also be a meet-up for Hub members, so he's looking forward to seeing you there!